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Blog Diss: LTP Chapter Description (Chapter Two)

This is the final version (for draft one) of my chapter two description.

Revision history, thus far: Minor stylistic and mechanical changes

 

My second chapter will explore current debates and trends with fandom. In scope, this domain is almost certainly the largest featured in my study; there are millions of fan pages online devoted to individual fandoms, as well as massive[1] multi-fandom sites such as Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net. To attempt to account for even a significant percentage of these archives would easily take at least the entirety of one book-length project.

Rather than attempting to engage with fandom as a totality, then, my intent is to isolate several specific forms, events and concerns within particular fan communities. Generally, the chapter focuses on gendered forms of fan production primarily undertaken by women, particularly fanfiction, or the writing and circulation of fan narratives that use characters, settings, and plots from an already existing form of media. Despite the fact that the gendered dynamic of specific fandoms do not always follow this trend, the overwhelming tendency is for fanfiction to be undertaken by women, while other genres such as video parodies are primarily produced by men (Jenkins 2006a 155). Even in fandoms where men participate to a greater degree in fanfiction, I will suggest that we might read fanfiction as still socially gendered female in ways that make a gendered analysis relevant in most cases[2].

Debates surrounding monetization are particularly important sites of negotiation surrounding labour and gender in fandom.  I will begin my discussion of these conversations by introducing Tiziana Terranova’s call to differentiate between monetization and the popular language of incorporation and co-option. If we accept Terranova’s claim that “it seems more reasonable to think of cultural flows as originating within a field that is always and already capitalism” (38) rather than attempting to distinguish absolutely between online practices/populations internal and external to capital, I argue we are able to ask a series of questions which both build upon and refine existing research. Rather than debate whether fanfiction constitutes an example of a fandom as a gift economy in Hyde’s (1979) sense of the term, and monetization a betrayal of that ethos, for example, we might ask how the introduction of monetization into fanfiction alters an already existing relationship to capital, and how the gendering of fanfiction writers influences responses to this shift. Specific fan communities and practices do share anti-capitalist commitments, and my argument here is not an attempt to dismiss such investments. I am interested, instead, in how the resistant power and limitations of affective fan labour might be more accurately accounted for by the recognition that its struggles are taking place within spaces already internal to capital and its various structures of normalization.

The primary case studies I will work through in order to track this shift in fandom are the publication of E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey series(which was originally a work of Twilight fanfiction) and the development of Kindle Worlds, Amazon’s fanfiction sale platform. The former has been the subject of many critiques since its release, including on the basis of its representation of BDSM (Connolly), its gender politics (Flood), and the quality of its writing (audreyi_fic). Fans themselves have also been highly critical of the text’s publication as a for-profit commodity. In “Fifty Shades of Exploitation: Fan Labor andFifty Shades of Grey”, Bethan Jones characterizes the polarizing responses to James’s work as representing “two opposing sets of values” within fandom: “cultural value based on the profit motive, and cultural production for its own sake” (2.6).

Jones’s reminder that struggles over monetization are not exclusively economic, but “cultural” (2.6) is well taken. Indeed, my aim within this chapter is to consider how her argument might be extended by addressing the gendering of fan labour, particularly that of fanfiction. The cultural values associated with the “gift economy” of fanfiction, after all, do not exist outside of varying structures of normativity. I will suggest that reactions to James, while expressing very real concerns about the impact of monetization on fandom, are also shaped in large part by the historic and ongoing association between female bodies and unwaged labour (Federici, James), such that women are disproportionately expected to work for love and not money in fandom much as they are offline in domestic and reproductive spheres.

As a means of considering this tendency on a broader scale, I will also take up discussions surrounding the development of Kindle Worlds. The platform, released in 2013, allows fanfiction writers to sell their work to Amazon. In exchange, authors are promised “between 20 and 35 percent of the revenue”, and are “officially sanctioned by copyright holders” (Robertson n.p.). While some find the explicit legal protection appealing, the terms of service on Kindle Words pose a concern to many, even those not inherently opposed to monetizing fan work. Publishers are not only allowed to “use fans’ original story elements without further pay”, but it also seems likely that many publishers involved will be enforcing restrictions on “graphic sex or…content like excessive violence or profanity” (Robertson n.p.). In exchange for legal protection, then, many fear that the site will enforce not only capitalist modes of valuation and exchange, but also its associated structural inequalities that fanfiction so often disrupts (especially through its foregrounding of queerness). I will highlight how resistance to Kindle Worlds as a platform currently seems centered primarily upon the terms of monetization rather than the ethics of monetization itself (as in the 50 Shades controversy). The discrepancy between the focus of each of these critiques, I will suggest, showcases the unevenly gendered expectations surrounding affect and fan labour.

Though my primary emphasis will be on reactions to monetization within fandom, I will also take up representations of fandom within popular media itself. Specifically, I will discuss recent episodes of BBC’s Sherlock and Fox’s Glee, both of which have represented fans, especially women, as overly affected and invested in non-normative sexualities. The former opened its third season with a storyline where fans of Sherlock (the character) offer various explanations for how his recent suicide might have been faked. One such gathering is ‘interrupted’ by a female fan whose theory involves Sherlock and his nemesis, Moriarty, being involved in a secret love affair. She is accused by other fans of not taking their efforts “seriously”, and asked if she is “out of her mind” (“The Empty Hearse”). On Glee, a show which frequently builds fan commentaries into its canon, writers pre-emptively responded to anger about a female bi-sexual character, Brittany, breaking up with her female partner Santana and dating a male schoolmate, Sam, by characterizing lesbian fans of the couple (on Brittany’s blog) as so invested in seeing “two super hot, popular girls in love” that they would likely become “violent” and attempt to harm Sam (“Swan Song”).

Despite the fact that fan labour, including the production of fanfiction, generates both cultural and economic capital for mainstream media, these cases indicate there is strong resistance on the part of networks and individual writers/producers to recognizing fans’ actions as work, especially when those acts are undertaken by women and concerned with representations of non-heteronormative sexualities. I am interested in how considering these moments in popular media alongside discussions within fandom about labour and compensation reveal both tension and congruence between both groups with regards to gendered and sexual work. Fandom has consistently struggled against networks and other copyright owners for its right to represent non-normative sexualities, but I argue that the affective expectations surrounding gendered production can be remarkably similar in both spaces. Mainstream media periodically mocks women for over-investment (or excessively affective) ties to media, while certain branches of fandom (such as those responding to 50 Shades) critique women for lacking enough affective investment to work without payment. The result of female fans’ inability to feel ‘properly’ or ‘proportionately’, however, seems to be a consistent devaluing of their affective labour as work.




[1] To give a sense of scale, there are just under 1800 different fandoms listed as active on Fanfiction.net’s television category alone at the time of writing.

[2] This aspect of my work builds upon a recent (2011) article by Mel Stanfill, which contends that male fans are frequently represented as ‘failed’ examples of white, heterosexual masculinity.

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